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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

100 Years On: A Road to Upper House Revival.

Honorable Gentlemen: hear, hear !

Question put and passed.

The (Legislative) Council adjourned at 8.37 pm.

The final words, of Queensland’s original upper house: as reported by Hansard on October 27, 1921, which is available for all to peruse, at QLD Parliament's website.

100 years on, on October 27, 2021 at 8.37 pm, we look to a future where a upper house can rightfully return.

Today marks a significant milestone in Queensland’s political story. October 27, 2021, marks 100 years, since Queensland’s Legislative Council voted itself out of existence, after a six year battle (which included a referendum in 1917, which returned a emphatic No vote). But the fight between QLD Labor and a opposition in a chamber that was never reformed (all other upper houses in Australia were made elective (that is, they simply let the people have their say on who sat in the upper house, opposed to appointing members for life (which was the model of Westminster's House of Lords which all our colonial upper houses emulated) before federation: QLD’s Governor simply appointed new members until Labor had the numbers to self-abolish the chamber) strikes as a surprising look forward to the century that followed.

A Queensland Legislative Assembly with no house of review, ended up for almost the rest of the 20th century, having two dominant political forces in it: A QLD Labor Party that only lost one election from the upper house’s abolition in 1921 (in 1929, to a one term proto-Country Party government that ended up being faced with the beginning of the Great Depression), to 1957 (after a split in QLD Labor), then a QLD Country Party (later National Party) that didn’t lose a election until 1989.

In the space of thirty years, the QLD Legislative Assembly added 14 new electorates, and at the same time made decisions of excess, that would have been reined in by a upper house had one existed long before Fitzgerald inquired about what was going on in QLD politics in the Joh era.

Since 1989, there has been four Labor, and two LNP premiers, and with a increase of seats in 2017’s redistribution, to 93, QLD’s single chamber is now as large as NSW’s lower house (which had it’s own spate of reform: from a peak of 107 seats in 1988 to the current 93 seats in 1999).

The future for the QLD Legislative Assembly: if we continue at the pace we are going at, will likely see it become the largest lower house in any Australian state in time (It may well occur at the next QLD state redistribution, you know), because of one thing: the pace of population growth in SE Queensland: something many regional representatives may well see as a shock.

For a open example: NSW’s 93 lower house seats divided by the number of registered voters, equal a electorate average size of just over 57,000 voters registered per seat.

In Queensland: the average number of voters registered per state seat (using the formula of number of registered voters divided by the number of seats, 93) is around 37,000.

If change is to happen, we first need to go towards the future: the potential that at the start of the next decade, QLD’s parliament may well have 99-101 seats.
At 101 seats, the average number of voters registered per state seat (based off current numbers) would be around 33,000.
And, it’s all thanks to the first major problem Queensland parliament is facing in the 21st century: the rise of greenfield electorates.

What is a greenfield electorate?
A “greenfield electorate”, is a potential new electorate for a area that today has very little population (e.g. Caboolture West,  Flagstone-Greenbank) or is becoming a populated part of a relatively large electorate (northern half of Coomera electorate, Aura development in the Caloundra electorate, Yarrabilba in Logan). These greenfield electorates will likely rise as the next spate of expansion of QLD’s lower house. However, the big worry will be the potential for greenfield electorates on the northern Gold Coast (splitting the Coomera and Logan electorates into 3-4 seats), and the southern Sunshine Coast, potentially gaining one or two seats with a major redistribution involving the Caloundra, Kawana and Buderim electorates in light of growth around Caloundra South and Palmview.

Which brings us to the second problem: Electoral density.

The Gold and Sunshine Coasts are among the most electorally dense for their population size in Australia.
In fact, when compared electorally to their nearest competitor on the largest cities list (GC being Newcastle/Maitland, SC being the NSW Central Coast and Wollongong), they both are already too electorally dense. In fact, the Gold Coast is on track to eventually have more state electorates than the three largest centres in NSW outside Sydney... combined.

Any review of the QLD lower house must take into account electoral density, and the future state of the chamber if it expands toward the magic 101 seat mark.

Electoral density, also affects the quality of candidate you could attract at election time: a candidate  could be seen by a political party to “just make up the numbers” and thus make very little effort to unseat the incumbent, while there has been far heavier focus on seats with retiring members, where there is a chance to flip a electorate for potentially a long stint. And, there is of course, the good old fashioned “don’t preselect the sitting member, and parachute someone else in trick”, that the current QLD opposition leader used successfully in 2017 in Broadwater (a state electorate, whose area is larger than the combined sizes of Surfers Paradise, Mermaid Beach and Burleigh, yet has a similar number of enrolled voters as just one of those electorates).

And if we want to look at the “electoral density” issue seriously, this means moving toward a lower amount of seats in the south-east corner, not necessarily in Brisbane, but from the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, which could potentially hold a fifth of all total seats in the lower house chamber in a 99-101 seat situation: effectively creating a electoral bloc, that could put extreme pressure on governments to act on their interests to the detriment of those elsewhere.

There are also some anomalies that need to be rectified, where historically urban electorates and historically rural ones surrounding them (a clear example being the electorate of Burnett surrounding the electorate of Bundaberg entirely), need to be changed dramatically.

Net seats required for:
Gold Coast: Now: 11, Future: 4.
Sunshine Coast: Now: 8, Future 4.
Toowoomba, Fraser Coast, Bundaberg, Rockhampton: Currently: 8, Future: 4.
Mackay, Townsville, Cairns: Now: 9, Future 3-6.
Brisbane: Now: 42 Future: 40, with merger of South Brisbane/McConnel (into a new Brisbane Central electorate), and Ipswich and Bundamba (into a Greater Ipswich electorate), with tweaked boundaries for most other electorates.
Remaining 15 electorates: untouched.

If Queensland cut the number of lower house seats from 93 to 73, through the reform process, the average number of voters per seat would be in the 45-50,000 range.

This would also pave the way for the second half of wideranging political reform in Queensland: a new QLD upper house.

How does such a concept happen, you may ask: It’s not as easily done, as most political moves in this state, but there is a clear path towards acting on it if the right political will is sourced.

Thank William Forgan-Smith’s circuitbreaker of 1934: or as it’s proper name implies: the Constitution Act Amendment Act 1934 (Section 3 to be precise) for giving Queensland this path, which is easily accessible, via this link.

This act until 2016 also set out the path for increasing terms for QLD politicians beyond three years: that was, passing a amendment act for the QLD constitution through the Legislative Assembly, and then putting it to the people via a referendum, and if the people agreed, it would go and get royal assent.

The fact that Queensland now has four year terms for state politicians (a move decided by the people of Queensland at a referendum in March 2016 after a failed attempt during Wayne Goss’s first term, in 1991) with fixed terms (like the majority of Australia), is a shining example of why the Constitution Act Amendment Act of 1934, still works 87 years after it was signed into law.

The same would apply, for a upper house restoration: a constitution amendment act enabling a upper house restoration is passed through the Legislative Assembly, then will go to the people of QLD, and if the people agreed, it would get royal assent.

However: any attempt by Queensland Parliament to develop a upper house restoration act, will end up getting bogged down in partisan politics. Instead, we recommend that the act for restoring a upper house to Queensland would be developed through a similar process as the four constitutional conventions Australia have undertaken since the 1800’s, the most recent being in 1998: for devising a model for a republic referendum.

A QLD Constitutional Convention, on the issue of a upper house restoration (and investigating other constitutional issues too thorny to make it to Parliament’s floor, such as the role of QLD’s governor if Australia were to become a republic, even possibly indigenous recognition in QLD’s constitution) would be the only solution to this issue. Delegates would be 2/3rds publicly selected, 1/3 appointed: with each seat in the lower house entitled to send 2 publicly selected delegates and one appointed delegate for a total of 279 delegates. In addition, overseers from the various upper houses of Australia would oversee the process of developing not just a upper house restoration act, but the model of how such a legislative arm would work.

The model we would suggest for a revived QLD upper house in it’s initial form is as follows.
-38 members of this parliamentary body.
-The new upper house, is a entirely directly elected body (with the same rights as the lower house concerning the voting franchise and representation), opposed to being a entirely appointed body that was the original QLD Legislative Council (which was abolished six years after women won the right to be elected to Queensland Parliament, and 8 years before the first woman took her seat in Queensland Parliament: Irene Longman (for which the outer northern Brisbane federal electorate of Longman is named.) 
-The initial elected upper house would have their terms decided via the same process as what is done after an double dissolution federal election (where both houses are all elected at the same time). This process would see members 1-19 get a eight year term (expires at the state election eight years later), and 20-38 get a 4 year term (up at the next state election, with successors to get a eight year term)
-Once the pattern is established, that 19 upper house seats are up for grabs at every state election, all upper house members would be entitled to eight year terms.
-For every four new seats added to the lower house, the QLD upper house would be allowed to expand by two if they wished to do so (with the same requirement as initial members: one eight year term, one four year term).

How it would be elected is another matter entirely.
The electoral concept would be that QLD upper house elections would be based on a similar model to the Australian senate: single transferable vote, through proportional representation, with a bar on ticket voting (to prevent the preference whisper effect).

But the electoral concept, even though it’ll be STV/PR clearly divides into two potential options.

Option A: A single upper house electorate for Queensland, with quotas for election: a similar option to NSW and SA in how their upper houses are elected. The biggest risk of this option, is you potentially set up a upper house, that ends up being SEQ dominant in it’s first term of operation (due to the fact that the majority of QLD’s electoral roll lives in the south east corner of Queensland), and potentially would turn off regional voters towards a upper house.

Option B: Electoral districting, where Queensland is divided into large electoral districts that are multi-member electorates, and people in those electorates only vote for who is running for their upper house electorate. This option operates in Victoria and Western Australia as the system for how their upper houses are elected as STV/PR systems.

The biggest benefit, of Option B: is simply regional representation. Voters would get to know their upper house candidate in the same fashion as their lower house candidate. In some regions cases, it will replace the dense representation in the lower house (Wide Bay having four upper house members and two lower house members once lower house electorate numbers are shrunk) or will add representation where such doesn’t exist: (Traeger electorate, (effectively north west Queensland), gaining upper house representation in addition to it’s current lower house member) The electoral districting system would be simple to understand: with the concept being as follows.
The QLD upper house if using Option B, would be split into 10 districts, eight districts with four members:
-Far North Queensland
-North Queensland
-North West Queensland
-Central Queensland
-Central West Queensland
-South West Queensland
-Darling Downs
-Wide Bay
and two districts with three members:
-South East Queensland North (north of the Brisbane River)
-South East Queensland South (south of the Brisbane River)

With Option B, term allocation for the initial cohort, would be slightly different. Each elected member in the eight four member districts will pick from four numbers between 1-4 from a ECQ sanctioned barrel, (picking either 1 and 2 gives a eight year term, while picking 3 or 4 gives a four year term), while the two SEQ districts, would toss a specially minted coin (to eventually go on display in Parliament House), to decide who would get the advantage of having two members sitting for eight years (only requiring one 4 year member to be elected at the next QLD election)

Option B, would allow for easier expansion of the upper house, with SEQ North and South gaining a member if lower house expansion happens. The initial composition, would see the eight districts with four members split evenly between eight year and four year terms, while the two SEQ districts would have three seats up at every upper house election (two for one district, one for the other) until lower house expansion allows the fourth member for both SEQ districts.

The do’s and don’ts of the upper house:

The biggest “do” of a new Queensland upper house, would be that it is a house of review, with powers to not only send laws back down to the lower house for changes, but have the power to control certain bills, such as financial supply, with a key caveat: if financial supply isn’t passed by the upper house, it would allow the entire lower house to be dissolved for a single-house election outside the fixed 4 year parameters, leading towards a joint parliamentary session to pass bills for supply.

The second biggest “do”, would be that members of the upper house will be able to develop legislation for passage by the lower house, to a point. This is akin to the private members bill apparatus in Federal Parliament.

The biggest “don’t”, is simply that any attempt to abolish the new QLD upper house, will need a double majority vote, consisting of:
-a two-thirds majority in a joint session of Queensland Parliament to discuss a abolition act, that will require a referendum with specific conditions to take effect.
-a two thirds majority of the votes in a referendum of Queensland residents: that is, it’ll have to be rejected by 67% of the QLD electorate or higher, for upper house abolition proceedings to begin.

This would mean, the upper house abolition process, wouldn’t be done over a matter of days, as it was in 1921, but would take up to a year: especially with the two thirds majority referendum requirement to even begin to wind up any new QLD upper house.

The initial election.
The initial upper house election, would occur at the first state election after the approval of the constitutional amendment act by both Queensland parliament and the voters of Queensland (and thus has been given royal assent)… provided it is within a two year timeframe prior to the fixed date poll. This timeframe allows for ample time to: 
-find office space within the George Street political precinct for 18-20 new upper house members (for a combined legislature size of 111: 73 lower house, 38 upper house) especially if the electoral district model is chosen, with potential to eventually plan for a combined legislature size of 147 (97 member lower house, fifty member upper house). The possibility of significant long-term work (either a second tower for the Parliamentary Annexe or a complete rebuild of the Parliamentary Annexe) must not be ruled out.

This site’s recommendation for who and how a new Parliamentary Annexe would need to be designed for:
-147 parliamentarians, with every member being based and accommodated on site (with bedrooms for all members)
-A modern media gallery facility (with potential for media overnight accommodation), including a dedicated media conference facility.
-Relocation of the Deputy Premier's office (currently based in the former Legislative Council President's office in Parliament House, which would likely be reoccupied by the new head of the upper house) to the new Annexe.
-Building is wired for fibre optics, to deliver internet, phone and television access to all parts of the building, and has ducts for future technologies to be installed.
-Possibility for a modern television facility to cover both chambers and other key locations (with QLD Parliament moving toward filming in 4K (online) and downscaled to HD for broadcasters to use: a possible legacy of the 2032 Olympics).

-research the feasibility of modernizing the Legislative Council chamber (that is: transitioning it into a working legislative chamber for the 21st century (that is: being no longer adaptable as a function space): without impacting the chamber’s heritage features.).
-Inquire about the possibility of taking the QLD upper house in it’s first term of revival to Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns, in a similar fashion to how since 2002, there has been five sittings of QLD Parliament outside the South East corner: such a move would allow people in regional Queensland, the chance to see a working upper house in action.
-The possibility, of having British royalty (in addition to the Governor of Queensland) being present for the first ceremonial opening of a new Queensland upper house.

In addition, the current committee system of Queensland Parliament, would be tweaked towards including a mixture from both houses, along with the potential to take events like estimates hearings on the road to Queensland locations, much like community cabinets are done today.

So, what should be the roadmap for getting a upper house restored in Queensland?

I reckon, the ultimate goal should be to have a upper house, again being the house of review in Queensland by 2030, but our roadmap shows what can be done if the process starts today: the centennial of the end of the Queensland Legislative Council.

The Roadmap to Revival:

-By 2024 state election: a Queensland Constitutional Convention is held (thus referred to as the QCC): that sets out the guidelines toward a act that activates the provisions within Section 3 of the Constitution Act Amendment Act 1934.

-Also, by 2024: Begin planning for parliamentary accommodation, that would serve Queensland well into the 21st century, with space for 147 parliamentarians, media and other duties, within the Parliament House precinct.

-By 2026, a referendum is held on the act developed by the QCC (if such a referendum is successful, it would also repeal the Constitution Act Amendment Act 1934).

-Also by 2026: begin work on “Operation: Forgan-Smith”, that would entirely replace the current parliamentary annexe with new parliamentary accommodation built for the future in mind.

-If the referendum passes and gets royal assent (along with new lower house electoral boundaries, cutting lower house electorates from 93 to 73): the 2028 state election will be the first ever QLD state poll where voters will have to vote for not just the Legislative Assembly, but for the Upper House.

-2032: the new Parliamentary accommodation would be commissioned in it’s entirety (with a staged approach being possible) in time for the 2032 Olympics (with some of the spare spaces (that would eventually be used as QLD Parliament grows) utilized during the Games for key infrastructure, such as traffic control.
As we end this post, hoping for change: I’d thought it’d be wise to answer some questions about some ideas in this post you will inevitably ask us in passing..

“Why did you look at a new upper house to begin with?”

After seeing what the conservative IPA pitched twelve months ago (effectively pitching the idea of slapping a upper house onto QLD’s existing political structure like a lean-to hut), we thought that creating a alternative option (that would take into account the issues that would preclude QLD Parliament from developing a upper house revival act themselves, by instead engaging in wider conversation with Queenslanders) would explain a better way to deliver such a concept (especially, as this post isn’t being buried amongst a state election fought during a pandemic, unlike what the IPA did), along with taking one key idea on-board from elsewhere, and building on it.

That idea came from the former federal member for Moreton, Gary Hardgrave who summed it up in 2019 in a rational fashion, which also explained his position on the question of four year terms for Queensland state politicians in 2016.

You simply cannot have, a viable upper house in Queensland without the reductions necessary in the Legislative Assembly (to prevent a Gold Coast/Sunshine Coast electoral bloc forming) to make such a idea work.

(Another key difference, with ours and the IPA’s proposal: the IPA used total population (inc. those under 18), we used publicly accessible data from the AEC concerning electoral roll sizes: where you’d naturally exclude those under 18 unless they have pre-enrolled.

“Gary suggested 60 seats for the Legislative Assembly: why did you choose 73.”

Two reasons.
1. A simple cut of 20 electorates, with the majority of cuts happening on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.
2. 73 seats, would preserve the tradition that the speaker of the Legislative Assembly would have the casting vote in the case of a deadlock. There is a clear reason why the majority of state lower houses in Australia, as well as the House of Representatives in Canberra all have odd numbers of members, simply to prevent deadlocks, as the speaker of the chamber would always have a casting vote if a motion is deadlocked in a odd-numbered lower house.

“Why 38 seats in a theoretical QLD upper house?”
Because, such a number strikes a balance, between the number Gary Hardgrave suggested (24) and the number the IPA suggested (77), and would be of similar size to the NSW and Victorian Legislative Councils. With the reductions in the Legislative Assembly, you would only require 18 additional offices for parliamentarians at Parliament House (compared to the nine less offices of the Hardgrave model (which would reduce overall numbers of parliamentarians in Queensland to 84: close to the same number (82) that existed between 1972 and 1986), and the 77 additional offices of the IPA model, which would bring overall numbers of parliamentarians in Queensland to 170, because of the retention of the Legislative Assembly at it's current size and structure).

And speaking of offices.
“Why mention a upgrade to the Parliamentary Annexe?”
Because, as Waynie-Poo implied in 1981 (that’s forty years ago: folks), the Parliamentary Annexe looked like “a brick outhouse”… But seriously: The Parliamentary Annexe built in the 1970’s to replace the Bellevue Hotel as accommodation for out of town politicians, is falling apart, and was quoted in early 2021, to cost nearly $50m to fix just the fa├žade and windows. It would be much easier, if a direct replacement were built, especially one that could give every member of parliament, and the media a bed on-site, up to date facilities for media and Parliament’s operation along with the building being ready for tomorrow’s technology and a ever growing Queensland parliament.

And, one last question.

“Is the “Constitution Act Amendment Act 1934” a legacy people commonly forget concerning William Forgan Smith?”

William Forgan Smith, is remembered most importantly, in this day and age for his contribution towards key infrastructure in Queensland: the Story Bridge, constructing UQ’s campus at St Lucia (with Forgan Smith later becoming UQ chancellor from 1944 to his death in 1953) as well as developing major relief projects during the Great Depression.

However, this simple piece of legislation, is most likely William Forgan Smith’s greatest legacy: as it forced Queensland to consult the people twice in 25yrs (first in 1991 and again in 2016), on whether or not terms for Legislative Assembly members could be extended from three to four years. The only reason this act exists today… is simply because it holds provisions of how a upper house revival plays out: however, the idea of a “Queensland Constitutional Convention” to devise how to eliminate the CAAA of 1934 (opposed to beachball politics, bouncing the idea around the Legislative Assembly like one would toss a beachball around while spending a day on the beach) is entirely our idea, we are to proud to have called our own.

As we close, the first ever OneQueensland branded post on Kuttsywood's Couch, we implore the people of Queensland, to take our ideas, and give them life. I reckon, we can achieve the return of a upper house to Queensland within our lifetime. It's as, we always say over at OneQueensland...
That it will be a matter of political will, before such things happen.

And, remember: to visit OneQueensland on Twitter for more talk concerning what Queensland should become in the twenties and beyond.


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